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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

A Clean Slate: Interactive Whiteboard Makes Lessons Snazzy

There's no reason to be bored with this new kind of board.
Douglas Cruickshank
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Interactive-whiteboard aficionado Sue Holland.

Credit: Elena Dorfman

Do you fit one of these scenarios? You've acquired an interactive whiteboard for your classroom, or you're about to. It's been installed, or it soon will be. You've attended a workshop on using the board or gone through an online tutorial, or a colleague has shown you the basics. Now what? How do you and your students make the most of this grand gadget?

Recently, during a morning prep period, Sue Holland, an energetic seventh-grade science teacher at Miller Creek Middle School, in San Rafael, California, answered that question and several others. Holland, a semifinalist for the 2005 California Teacher of the Year award, has been teaching for thirty-four years. This is the third year she's used an interactive whiteboard in her classroom and her enthusiasm is unrestrained. "It's very powerful learning," she says, "very powerful learning!"

Several companies market interactive whiteboards, including Hitachi, Panasonic, Mimio, Interwrite, Promethean, and Smart Technologies, which makes Smart Board, the brand Holland uses.

"Just creating lessons is so fun," Holland says. "I used to sit with the old plan book and write, 'I'm going to do this and this.' But with the Smart Board, you get to design your lesson plans using their tools. You can be as creative as you want to be.”

Credit: Elena Dorfman

And Holland has done just that. “I can insert links to the Internet, or go right to a streaming video on the Web,” she explains. “During a lesson, if a student asks, 'What about this?' I can say, 'Let's take a look' and go online to view it, instead of just talking about it. Eighty percent of us are visual learners -- I do all my lessons now as Smart Board lessons, which is cool."

And Holland isn’t the only one who thinks it's cool. The students use the board in a variety of ways, too, individually and in groups. "I just stand back, and the kids are engaged,” she explains. "For example, we study diseases of the human body in seventh grade. The kids will research a disease, create a PowerPoint presentation, and then share it with the class. They can change their presentation while standing at the board, or write on the board if someone asks a question."

The board can be just as beneficial when applied to math, history, art, physical education, or any other subject. "The software comes with K-12 curriculum built into it," Holland says. "Any software you can put on your laptop can be used with your Smart Board."

Has she had any problems with the board?

"It's technology!" Holland says with a laugh. "Sometimes it will just do something strange. But I love technology, even when it doesn't work."

Accessing Web-based software (such as Google Earth) and other Web resources further expands the potential for using interactive whiteboards in class. Indeed, the list of possibilities is endless. Here are just a few:

  • Digital storytelling.
  • Creating, viewing, and annotating student PowerPoint and multimedia presentations in real time.
  • Showing streamed or downloaded videos.
  • Using online map and satellite imagery to teach geography.
  • Displaying artwork or online museum presentations.
  • Demonstrating moviemaking techniques.
  • Viewing and analyzing competitive sports and physical education activities.
  • Teaching students how to conduct research on the Internet.
  • Working collaboratively on writing and editing exercises, math lessons, and science experiments.
  • Instructing the class on the use of a software program, keyboarding techniques, and other computer skills.

"Anybody can use it -- it’s limitless," Holland says. "Unless the students are engaged in a project at their desks or they're taking a test, we use the board throughout the day, even if I just show them a short video. I use it all the time!"

Douglas Cruickshank is the former editor of Edutopia.org.

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How can educators, students, schools, and communities go green? Find additional resources about sustainability, conservation, and other earth-friendly practices and curricula on Edutopia's Environment Education page.

Comments (53)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Mary Quill's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I teach at Shelton School and Evaluation Center in Dallas, Texas, the largest educational center in the world for students with learning differences. The SMART board has been installed in many of our classrooms. Teacher education followed, and continues, to ensure effective use of the SMART board. It is an invaluable tool for our students. Because of its size, the SMART board enhances the students' ability to focus. Those who are language challenged use the SMART board to present reports, while those who hesitate to participate in class are eager for a chance to interact with the SMART board. It is an incredibly powerful tool for both teaching and learning.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I would love to have a smarteboard in my classroom. Does anyone know how to acquire one through a grant?

Laura Sanderford's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have had my SmartBoard for about a year and find it inspiring. When I teach about the brain I found a hyperlink that shows the brain in a 3D image that highlights each part and describes its functions. The students come up and move it around and then discuss its functions as they apply to their everyday life. I recently taught a gifted class on aerodynamics with out a SmartBoard and all I could think about was how much better it could be if I had one. I am now teaching other teachers how to use it and every time they reach that moment of understanding, their excitement is moving. It really engages the students. Our students created an interactive test on the Civil War and they had a blast while learning so much about the topic.

Kyle's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I find a middle ground between the utility of electronic white boards as stated by Sue and Joel's remarks. Though having an e-board allows one to USE a nice collection educational manipulatives, it does not provide a new technology in terms of displaying such manipulatives (LCD projector and computer will do this alone).

This response began to get very long so I posted the rest on my blog instead. Check it out at www.teach2point0.blogspot.com

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Go online to DonorsChoose.com

Sr. Karen Dolovacky's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Using a white board is OK, but it's nothing compared with the power of writing and saving. When I have absent students, I just print off the frames they missed. I use the technology every day, except test days. It's great even for reviews, since I just turn on the projector and let them play with the small reviews we've done on each section of the material as we proceeded through the chapter. Since we are now moving into a one-on-one laptop program, I am going to explore going text-less!

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)


I took a free 3-day certification course on using primary source documents through Metro College of Denver summer of 2006. I received a $1500 tech voucher to spend on a list provided, to spend at my school at that time. I ordered a document camera and a small 4 ft SmartBoard. The downside, for me, was that these stayed with the school when I left this past May. Good luck.

Sue Holland's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Paula,
Have you ever tried DONORSCHOOSE.ORG? There is a lengthy questionaire to complete, but they support projects like this. I think you just missed the deadline for BEST BUYS grants. Good luck! It is worth all your efforts.

Sue Holland

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Did you find any good information on grants for Smart Boards?

J Chiavacci's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

You should seriously consider looking at a PolyVision board. http://www.polyvision.com/ It does not require a teacher to learn any software to make it work unless the teacher wants to learn software (bundled with the board) and then they can take it to another level. Another feature that is great is the fact that the board, with the lightning feature, requires only a one button push on the remote control in order to calibrate the board. No more touching spots on the board with you back to the class. Also, you do not need any special pen in order to write on the board. Use a stylus that comes with board or use a finger. And, the look and feel of the board sets it apart from the rest. It is a well designed and built product.

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